Waste in the Long-haul Trucking Industry and How Lean Thinking Can Help

April 16, 2020
The long-haul freight industry suffers from various forms of waste, making the entire system inefficient. In this post, we explore lean thinking and the role it can play in reducing waste and creating opportunity in the long-haul trucking industry.

The concept of lean thinking was first introduced, invented really, by Henry Ford, back in the 1930s. The manufacturing powerhouse Toyota, specifically, Dr. Taiichi Ohno, the “father” of the Toyota production system back in 1988, later perfected the idea. Dr. Taiichi Ohno described it as removing any “non-value added waste” from the timeline encompassing “the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect cash.” Lean thinking essentially focuses on eliminating waste wherever possible to create a more efficient work process.

There are 8 forms of waste outlined in lean thinking. They are:

The cool thing we’ve come to realize about lean thinking since Dr. Taiichi Ohno’s days, is that it can apply and yield great value to areas outside of the factory. Why? Because:

In our opinion, any area where there is waste can benefit from lean concepts. And, there is tons  of waste in the long-haul trucking industry. While not all forms of waste outlined in lean thinking apply, quite a few do and they are costing our industry billions of dollars.


Forms of waste in the long-haul trucking industry


Waiting: In the manufacturing industry, this is defined as workers watching automated processes, or having to wait for the next step, tool, supply, part, etc. In the long-haul trucking industry, it can be defined by all the time drivers spend waiting for their trucks to be loaded and unloaded.

Truck drivers say that waiting at warehouses for shipments to load or unload is one of the most aggravating parts of their job. A 2018 study revealed that almost 63% of truck drivers said they waited at least three hours every time they were at a shipping dock. They refer to this time as “detention time”, and the majority of the time, they are not compensated for it.

All the time spent waiting could certainly be put to good use. Drivers could be driving to the next pick up location, moving more freight, and improving their bottom line.

Unnecessary Movement: In the manufacturing industry, this is defined as any movement employees have to perform during the course of their work day other than adding value to the process. In the long-haul trucking industry, unnecessary movement equals empty miles. When truckers drive empty, typically because there are no nearby loads for the driver to pick up that are headed in the same direction, these miles are referred to as empty miles.

Empty miles mean that drivers are not earning money for being on the road, and the impact of this reaches far and wide. Carriers account for empty miles when deciding how much they charge for any particular load, so everyone from shippers to end consumers — and, of course, the environment — ultimately pay the cost of empty miles.

The American Transport Research Institute (ATRI) conducts an annual report on the operational costs of trucking. In its 2018 report, ATRI found that trucking companies traveled over 9.4 billion miles in 2017 and 20.7 percent of all those miles were empty. At an operational cost of $1.69 per mile, that means fleets spent approximately $3.3 billion in 2017 driving empty trucks. That’s a whole lot of waste!

Defects: In the manufacturing industry, waste is defined as the production of defective parts or parts that need correction. This can include repairing or scrapping parts made and time spent on replacement production. In the long-haul trucking industry, defects can be found within the actual processes set in place to “help” the industry run.

Many process defects in the long-haul trucking industry can be attributed to a hesitancy to invest in the technology needed to help drivers do their jobs. Consider this common scenario: a trucker on the road has a question regarding a load they are transporting. They have to call their fleet manager, who calls the customer service manager, who calls the broker. The customer service manager then calls the fleet manager back, who calls the trucker with the answer to their question.

That’s a whole lot of time and energy to answer a single question, right? Defects like this create waste across the entire industry. Automating this process with readily available digital solutions that directly connect drivers and brokers so no manual calls are involved would repair an existing defect that’s causing waste.

Non-utilized Talent: Whether we’re talking about the manufacturing or long-haul freight industry, this form of waste is easy to understand—not utilizing your employees to their full capability or, conversely allowing them to engage in tasks that would be more efficiently done by someone else.

The freight industry employs drivers, brokers, and everyone in between. When it comes to efficiency, it’s important to be sure everyone is spending their time doing the jobs they are skilled to do.


Do you pay a staff of administrators to complete paperwork, when their time might be better spent on customer service and sales?

Are your drivers waiting around to be loaded/unloaded for hours per delivery, when they could be driving?

Are you personally trying to string together a bunch of spot loads to build round trips for your drivers?

These are just a few examples of how the freight industry may be grossly mis-using talent.  


How to remove waste from the long-haul trucking industry

At this point, you’re probably alarmed by all the waste occurring in the long-haul trucking industry and wondering what can be done about it. Here at SemiCab, we’ve always been concerned about industry waste. It’s why we founded our company in the first place.

SemiCab is 100 percent focused on stripping waste from the industry in order to create $50 billion in new economic value, eliminate the addition of 30 million metric tons of CO2 to the environment, and improve the quality of life for carriers and drivers. We’re doing this with our unique digital freight ecosystem that with total visibility into supply and demand, builds fully loaded round trips—every time. Our approach reduces waiting, eliminates empty miles, replaces archaic solutions that don’t meet current needs, and let’s drivers do what they do best—drive.

Get the facts you need to know about SemiCab here.

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